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If you’re interested in politics and a regular user of YouTube, you’ve probably had the misfortune of coming across a video by the ‘Young Turks’ (or ‘YT’ as they now confidently abbreviate themselves).

The ‘Turks’ in question are real Turks by the way (quite an odd sentence, I know). The Lead man (and focus of this post) Cenk Uygur was born in Istanbul and moved with his family to the US as a child. According to Forbes, Uygur was once a fairly standard aspirational-minority Republican (Cuban and Iranian-Americans having provided the model for this), but later shifted after graduating University into the annoying ‘progressive’ more familiar to us.

In 2002, Uygur created the Young Turks internet show; intended no doubt to provide a rival to The Daily Show, then gaining fast in national popularity. That comparison stops at the intention… Jon Stewart, love him or not, is often a funny guy. The videos put out by the YT crowd are….well, not.

In case you don’t know what Cenk Uygur is like to listen to (lucky you!), try to imagine Bill Maher, but with all the humour, charisma, stage presence and wit completely subtracted.

Standard procedure on a YT podcast is for Cenk to show a clip of some intellectual colossus of the political right (the frail and eccentric Pat Robertson for example…) and then snigger righteously into the camera, drawing attention to self-evident flaws, and obvious excess. In many ways, Uygur is a political equivalent of those brave atheists who specialize in critiquing the claims of Scientology. Large arrows. Soft targets.

Still, a lack of humour and/or daring affects many decent people the world over. This alone doesn’t provide a reason to dislike Uygur, let alone describe him (as I’m going to) as ‘sinister’.

What frankly is sinister (and I’m far from the first to point this out) is the very name he chose for the show.

As you’ll be aware, educated reader, the ‘Young Turks’ of the former Ottoman Empire were – while nominally ‘secular’ – instrumental in the mass-slaughter of unarmed Armenian Christians during the diplomatic fog of the first World War. So great was there culpability that even Ataturk himself condemned them for their brutality (and he was hardly a liberal of the kind Uygur now so eagerly waits upon).

But perhaps this is simply consistent with the YT front-man’s real politics.

Mr Uygur, long before his ascension to national renown, made a point of denying that the genocide of the Armenians took place at all, and currently (no doubt encouraged by many a fluttering greenback) only accepts that sporadic acts of violence (intensity unspecified) occurred during the dissolution of the Ottoman system. ‘

Violence? Sorry Cenk, but a million dead Christians in a Muslim empire requires a slightly more detailed explanation.

Why exactly is Cenk so reluctant to do the decent thing here? The consensus on the genocide of the Armenians has already been drafted. He need only initial it. But he doesn’t…

Here’s what I think:

Cenk Uygur is not a ‘liberal’ by nature, or by belief. He is rather a liberal by profession. He has chosen to become a liberal in the same way as someone else might choose to become a plumber or a welder. It’s an occupation, and – in America – a most rewarding one. Deep down however, Uygur remains entirely committed to the myths of Turkish Nationalism.

In regards to the religion of his upbringing, Cenk has only declared a partial apostasy, now self-identifying as an agnostic. Revealingly, this is also the position of most Turkish Nationalists: One foot in the East, another in the West, never fully committing to either; strategic ambiguity.

Under the regime of Tacip Erdogan, the Republic of Turkey seems to be ending its long experiment with Westernisation. As it does so, keep an eye on those who still straddle the divide, and be careful what you believe from them.   

D, LDN.

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